Sure you’re going to Sycamore Pool and the Friday Night Concert. Those are easy. But will you stake out the hidden treasures of neighborhood markets and assorted pop-ups? Will you finally make it out to Salmon Hole for that most idyllic of heatwave cool-downs? And are you going to expand your backyard culinary repertoire beyond burgers and wieners?
Summers come and go, and at the end of each, many of us look back with pangs of regret as we question whether or not we made the most of the slow season. Of course, Chico has its easy pleasures, and falling lazily into the rhythms of downtown and Lower Park is good living. If, however, your adventurous spirit is calling for more than that, the Chico News & Review has compiled this list of 10 summer assignments for filling your bucket before autumn kicks it down the road.
Host a backyard concert
Well I love those hot nights, when a T-shirt feels right. You stay up later when everything’s outside—“Hot Nights,” Jonathan Richman
Could there be all these parties down some little lane, with potato chips sitting there and guitar playing? We need more parties in the USA—“Parties in the USA,” Jonathan Richman
There’s nothing like live music outside. Sitting on a blanket as the sun dips below the treeline, the warm, still air broken up by the sounds of a troubadour singing to the open sky.
In this music-crazy town there are hundreds of musical acts, and several shows taking place nearly every night, most at nightclubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, with a handful of daytime community events thrown in.
Some of the most gratifying local performances, however, are those backyard affairs that pop up around Chico once the threat of rain has dissipated (and the college students have left town). These events are made special by the inherent intimacy of the setup as well as the particular ambiance of the house venue. There are the well-landscaped backyards with plenty of shade and a back porch as a stage, as well more humble digs where a sweaty crowd can twirl happily in the dirt and weeds.
It doesn’t have to be pretty, and you don’t have to turn your home into a professional venue to host a concert. All that’s needed is a willingness to open your space to a party, and neighbors who are cool with a temporary increase in the usual volume for your corner of town (advance notice and an invitation to join the fun go a long way toward keeping the peace).
It doesn’t take much more work than putting on a backyard barbecue. Just make the proposition of a house show to a local musician and you’ll find out just how eager they are to help make the thing happen. The host sets up the space; the musicians will bring the gear, set up and produce the concert; and both of you will invite folks to attend (sharing info on directions, suggested donation and any rules specific to the house).
Bonus points if you set the scene nicely and create something that’s comfortable (well-defined seating and/or dancing areas with good sight lines), aesthetically pleasing (a couple strings of lights will work wonders) and, most of all, chill.
One show and you’ll be a local hero overnight.
Take a hike … and learn!
Chico offers several options to enjoy and engage with nature while simultaneously learning about the environment, local ecosystems and ecological stewardship. Several of these are based at Verbena Fields—a 20-acre native-vegetation park along Lindo Channel (W. First Avenue, near Madrone Avenue).
The Mechoopda Tribe is part of a coalition of organizations working to restore this habitat, and tribe member Ali Meders-Knight designs and leads programs and workshops to help share centuries-old wildland management techniques.
Twice-monthly events, held at this site and other locations, allow participants to earn certification in what is known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Wildtending Plant Walks are held year-round at Verbena Fields on the last Tuesday of each month, starting roughly two hours before sundown.
Additionally, Meders-Knight oversees gatherings at the Verbena site every Friday. During the summer months, these run from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. in order to beat the valley heat (“It’s a volunteer day, so we don’t want people to torture themselves,” she quipped).
“Every week is different,” she said of the Friday gatherings. “Sometimes we set up for [the TEK Certification] workshops … like, if we have a seed-gathering workshop that weekend we’ll spend the day preparing. And we also spend some time looking around and learning about everything.
“After a while, people learn how to identify invasives, spread native seeds, see the cycle of blooming that happens during the summer, and how we try to get flowers going at different times of the year for different types of bees and other pollinators.”
Meders-Knight said the Friday gatherings often lead to more TEK-related opportunities: “Someone might say they want to get together Sunday to peel willow, or I might have a basket camp [to make traditional baskets] at my house that weekend and invite everyone.”
Most equipment for the days’ tasks are provided, though Meders-Knight said people should bring their own gardening gloves if they want to use them. She also recommended closed-toed shoes and long pants during summertime, in order to reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks.
More information about ecological stewardship gatherings and certification programs at Verbena Fields and other sites can be found at TEKchico.org.
Catch Shakespeare in the park
Within the large, tree-lined Cedar Grove meadow in Bidwell Park, as the crickets chirp and a gracious early summer breeze rustles the leaves of the trees, you share a plate of crackers, meats and cheeses with a friend from your portable camping chair, the faint scent of bug spray on your warm skin. You take a sip of ice cold water from your canteen and enjoy the live music and the stage before you, lit by delicate string lights, your excitement building. You’re about to see local players bring one of The Bard’s tales to life.
Shakespeare in the Park is a quintessential summer experience. Since the 1950s, theater companies from all over the United States have brought Shakespeare to life in the outdoors.
In Chico, after more than a decade without any Bidwell Park productions, Legacy Stage brought Shakespeare back with gusto. Their 2019 debut was an inventive, migrating production of Macbeth, which took theatergoers on a two-mile stroll to various settings in the park, the path and scenes lit by handheld flashlights and lamps.
After a few dark years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Legacy returned to Bidwell Park once more with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, adding a steampunk twist to this fantasy comedy filled with fairies, this time set upon a more traditional, stationary stage. Audiences at the 2022 production brought their own chairs, picnic blankets, drinks and snacks, and watched the action unfold before them and around them in the grove. As the sun set, fairies flitted through the trees, creating colorful light shows. Throughout the play, intricately costumed characters exited and reemerged from the surrounding forest.
This year, Legacy returns with a production of As You Like It, June 1-3 and June 7-10 at 8 p.m., in Cedar Grove. This pastoral comedy, as described on their website, “explores our concepts of the masculine and the feminine and how those shape our relationships” as main character Rosalind “explores her gender identity and finds love along the way.”
Pack your meadow-ready gear and get ready for an unforgettable, immersive live theater experience.
Fire it up!
2001: A Space Odyssey, opens up with a scene subtitled “The Dawn of Man,” in which one group of ape-dudes usurps a watering hole from some other ape-dudes. Then a magic stone monolith appears and inspires the primates to pick up bones and start beating things with them … first a pig-horse beast, then the jerks that muscled in on their swank spot.
The implication is that mankind is defined by violence. Bummer. World history woulda been a lot more chill if the weird space rock instead made those monkey guys toss that pig-horse over some flame, whip up some sauce and invite all the other monkeys to the birth of BBQ. Cue “Also sprach Zarathustra.”
The point is, BBQ is awesome! Even though meat and flame are such a natural pairing that our primate forebears figured it out, there’s always room to evolve one’s grill game.
A great local source of inspiration and knowledge is the Facebook Group Chico BBQ Enthusiasts (CQE). Formed four years ago, the group enables locals to share recipes, advice, techniques and mouthwatering pictures of their masterpieces.
Colin Harrison, an administrator of the group who also owns catering service Slabb’s Barbecue, offered some tips for better BBQ at all levels.
“There’s always a lot of trial and error, and you have to be prepared to lose some food,” he said. “Chicken and tri-tip are good places to start.” He advised beginners to stay away from brisket.
Harrison said its essential to get to know your grill, whether it’s a Lil Smokey or a top-of-the line smoker. Many people cook too hot and you should never use too much charcoal. He recommended adjusting air vents on simple grills as necessary and cooking slow and low on the top “warming rack” of a propane grill rather than directly over the flame.
Harrison’s biggest piece of advice is to invest in a probe-type thermometer you can insert into the meat to get the exact temp, to avoid under- or over-cooking.
Finally, he shared a simple, tasty rub: a 1-1-1 mixture of kosher salt, garlic and ground pepper. “It’s excellent for chicken and beef, or used lightly on fish. It’s easily made from stuff everyone has on hand, doesn’t need to be applied more than a half-hour before you grill, and the flavor really sticks to the meat.”
Bike a new path
The main loop around Lower Bidwell Park is a heavenly diversion. Even during the deadliest of heat waves, Chicoans can take respite under the lush canopy that casts plentiful shade over almost the entire road. Aside from some rough patches, the ride is mostly flat and the cruisin’ smooth, and there are plenty of places to rest or dip in the creek along the way.
Alternatively, there is another Chico bike route—actually a network of routes—far less used by the masses that offers almost none of Lower Park’s comforts, and traveling it during the summer months will certainly make you sweat and probably cover you in a thin layer of dust, but the possibility for adventure is, well, possible.
We’re talking about the alleys. The half-finished, often overgrown roads between blocks throughout Chico are the paths least traveled, offering a glimpse of the secrets of our city. From 20-foot-high weed forests to community gardens; rusted-out cars where chickens reside to a restored vintage tractor in a pristine barn.
Alleys are like a town’s junk drawer, filled with mostly clutter but always with the possibility of a hidden forgotten treasure.
—Ashiah Bird & Jason Cassidy
Go to the waters
Chico is built around the creek that runs through it. Big Chico Creek winds through Bidwell Park, the downtown area and the university campus, and provides a cool, scenic and readily available respite from the city and the valley heat. During the hot months, when the mountain-fed stream is not so frigid, the opportunities for enjoying its water expand for miles in either direction, and branching out from the city center to explore them is what summers in Chico were made for.
The northeastern side of the creek flows down from Lassen National Park and into the canyon that makes up the bulk of Upper Bidwell Park, and amid the black lovejoy basalt formations that form the bed are several swimming holes worth hopping between during the summer. Brown’s Hole is the furthermost outpost (parking lot S), and Salmon Hole (parking lot N) is the biggest spot and offers the most dramatic scenery, with Big Chico Creek Canyon walls surrounding the kind-of-difficult-to-hike-down-to oasis.
Though it’s the most popular spot, a visit to Bear Hole offers a very gratifying half-day excursion that makes braving the crowd worth it if you get there by foot. It’s a roughly three mile there-and-back hike from the main gate on Yahi Trail. Even though it’s shaded in many places, the journey out the pedestrian-only path will cause you to work up sufficient sweat to make the dip into the cold waters a real treat. After several thrilling plunges from the rocky outcropping and/or the concrete pedestal at the Diversion Dam, you’ll be appropriately water-logged to become your own personal air conditioner for the return trip.
On the opposite side of the city, Big Chico Creek runs into the mighty Sacramento River. Tubing the Sac might be synonymous with Chico, but when’s the last time you were inspired to make the journey? When school’s out, you have the river largely to yourself.
The traditional float starts across the county line at the Irvine Finch boat launch and lasts about two hours if you take a left at Pine Creek and disembark at Scotty’s Boat Landing for some fried food and cold beverages.
Of course, there’s plenty of next-level floating—i.e. flatwater and whitewater rafting and kayaking—to be found in and around Chico on the Sacramento River, Butte Creek, etc. Visit the Chico Paddleheads group for all the paddlin’ info.
As with any outdoor adventures during hot weather, protect your skin with sunscreen and hats, bring plenty of water, check conditions ahead of time and pack applicable safety gear.
Even the most mundane night sky is alive with wonder, and there are plenty of celestial happenings over the summer months that make it worth escaping the city lights. Dan Puser, acting director of the Chico Community Observatory, shared some of this summer’s heavenly highlights.
Planetary happenings: “Right now, Venus and Mars are both visible in the early evening right after sunset,” he said. “Venus is the brightest thing up there other than the moon, and it will continue to be there towards the end of July.”
Mars—which looks like a bright red star—can be found near Venus, he said, between that planet and the constellation of Gemini. In late July, Mars will move between Venus and Leo. Leo can be found by looking for it’s brightest star, Regulus.
Mercury is harder to see because of its proximity to the sun, but will be furthest away from the center of our solar system Aug. 8. Binoculars may be necessary to spot it, he said.
Later in the summer, Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune will return to our piece of sky. The former two will be visible to the naked eye, while a telescope is necessary to see Neptune.
Meteor shower: The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the weekend of Aug. 12 to 13. Puser said it’s best watched after midnight “because the side of the planet we’re on will start facing toward the direction Earth is traveling, so more meteors will be entering our atmosphere.”
Blue supermoon: A blue moon is the second full moon occurring in a single month, which will happen Aug. 30. Additionally, “the moon is not always the same distance from Earth, as it moves in an elliptical orbit,” Puser explained. “It will be at its closest to us [on Aug. 30] and will appear especially large and bright, which is called a supermoon.”
The observatory is temporarily closed due to damage from spring rains and legal issues, but Puser and the volunteer crew are working to get it open again as soon as possible. In the meantime, the facility’s concrete viewing slab in Upper Park is always available, and some long-time observatory regulars have been taking their telescopes there on Saturday nights to conduct “constellation tours” with other stargazers. Check the observatory’s Facebook page for information about these citizen-fueled space odysseys and updates on it’s reopening.
Stumble upon a street fair
Is it just the summer haze, or is that really a person selling jewelry made of pearl and bone near another reading tarot cards and offering tea infusions on the corner of Eighth and Flume streets?
There’s something magical about street fairs and markets in Chico. Where else can you buy a basket of plump strawberries and eat them, one by one, smiling as the red juice stains your fingers while you wander through the closed off streets of downtown Chico and stumble upon a nighttime fire dance show?
At the Thursday Night Market, there’s somebody playing music in the City Plaza as the sun goes down, and adults dressed as popular Sci Fi characters take pictures with teenagers.
Patrons browse gem stones that mirror the cosmos under the light of the full moon at the Lunar Market.
On a Divine Sunday, you can pick up a handcrafted ceramic mug with a colorful design reminiscent of the California super bloom and make eye contact with bizarre, myopic glass creatures.
And lately, new vintage markets have appeared seemingly overnight, like blooming cactus flowers. They are a welcome surprise, discovered as you make a late morning jaunt to pick up your favorite drink from a local coffee shop or wander out for an evening stroll.
Summer fairs are for getting in touch with the weird, the wonderful and the whimsical. They’re for embracing the sticky and the sweet as you sweat in the summer heat and enjoy a special treat from a local shop while browsing art offerings. Of course, they’re the best places to grab fresh produce, as well as discover the creatives in our community.
During your market travels, maybe you end up taking home a little trinket that speaks to you. Come winter, it reminds you of your summertime journey, and that the seasons will inevitably change. You’ll dance in the street under the balmy summer moonlight once more.
Go beyond Bidwell Park
At the northeastern border of Upper Bidwell Park, just past the parking lot at Green Gate on Highway 32 is the beginning of a whole other natural area that is twice the size of its neighbor. The Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve comprises 7,835 acres of habitat under the stewardship of Chico State Enterprises, a preserved “natural area for environmental research and education” according the BCCER website.
Like Upper Bidwell Park, the reserve is largely made up of Big Chico Creek canyon, with 4.5 miles worth of creek running through it. And like the park, you can visit!
The difference is that the area’s purpose is protecting species and habitat rather than entertaining humans. You can’t ride a bike or horse, drive a car or bring a dog into the reserve. There are no athletic facilities and swimming is not allowed.
What can you do then? You can enjoy a fairly unspoiled natural resource just a few miles up the road. And you can hike. There are several miles of trails throughout the reserve on both sides of the canyon. There’s also a less-than-one-mile Nature Trail Loop around a meadow near the Field House, and a map online that describes habitats, natural features and animals—from black bears to black-tailed deer—in the area.
The BCCER is open to the public and you can enter, by foot only, at two different trailheads—one at the border of Bidwell Park and one at the main park entrance off Highway 32 (east, approximately 10 miles past Bruce Road; look for a green “3521” address marker and park at the lot down the hill next to the gate). Visit the website for trail maps and info on upcoming events like the Annual Butterfly Count, June 2, 8:30 a.m. (email email@example.com to register).
Think globally, read locally
Rather than—or in addition to—consulting the New York Times Bestseller List or other standard sources when compiling your summer reading itinerary, why not add some locally grown literature to the mix? North State authors have turned out exceptional works since at least the days when Joaquin Miller—the “Poet of the Sierras”—rambled ’round these parts in the late 1800s.
Following are some recommendations of recently published books that lit-loving yoga instructor Nancy Wiegman, who’s hosted North State Public Radio’s “Nancy’s Bookshelf” for more than 30 years, shared with the CN&R to round out your summer reading list.
In Chico’s Chapmans: The California Years, 1861-1899, eminent local historian Michele Shover dives deep into the history of the family for whom the local neighborhood is named. “Everyone knows a lot about the Bidwells, but the Chapmans were also very interesting and important to Chico’s early history,” Wiegman said.
For thriller lovers, she recommended Mike Paull’s Missing series of international spy thrillers, the third of which—Missing in the Maldives—was published in March. She also mentioned science-fiction book Proto-Spora by Erika Lunder. Wiegman noted both authors published books after following careers in wildly different fields; Paull was a dentist and commercial pilot, and Lunder a social worker.
50 Countries, 50 Stories: A Journey of Discovery Around the World Told Through Authentic Stories and Captivating Media, chronicles 14 years of David Simmons’ globe-trotting adventures. Simmons grew up in Chico and, sadly, was killed in a landslide in Alaska in 2020, at the age of 30. His father, Randall, compiled the book from his late son’s writings.
Wiegman’s chats with these and more local authors can be found in NSPR’s archives (mynspr.org). Or, stop by The Bookstore (118 Main St.) to peruse the downtown institution’s local shelf and pick up the latest locally produced ’zines and poetry collections.